Snyder v. Phelps

8

SNYDER v. PHELPS
Opinion of the Court

form, and context, no factor is dispositive, and it is necessary to evaluate all the circumstances of the speech, including what was said, where it was said, and how it was said.

The “content” of Westboro’s signs plainly relates to broad issues of interest to society at large, rather than matters of “purely private concern.”  Dun & Bradstreet, supra, at 759. The placards read “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,” “America is Doomed,” “Don’t Pray for the USA,” “Thank God for IEDs,” “Fag Troops,” “Semper Fi Fags,” “God Hates Fags,” “Maryland Taliban,” “Fags Doom Nations,” “Not Blessed Just Cursed,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Pope in Hell,” “Priests Rape Boys,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and “God Hates You.”  App. 3781–3787. While these messages may fall short of refined social or political commentary, the issues they highlight—the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens, the fate of our Nation, homosexuality in the military, and scandals involving the Catholic clergy—are matters of public import.  The signs certainly convey Westboro’s position on those issues, in a manner designed, unlike the private speech in Dun & Bradstreet, to reach as broad a public audience as possible.  And even if a few of the signs—such as “You’re Going to Hell” and “God Hates You”—were viewed as containing messages related to Matthew Snyder or the Snyders specifically, that would not change the fact that the overall thrust and dominant theme of Westboro’s demonstration spoke to broader public issues.

Apart from the content of Westboro’s signs, Snyder contends that the “context” of the speech—its connection with his son’s funeral—makes the speech a matter of private rather than public concern.  The fact that Westboro spoke in connection with a funeral, however, cannot by itself transform the nature of Westboro’s speech. Westboro’s signs, displayed on public land next to a public

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